Merlin attractions boss leaves resort for new role

Iain Hawkins
Iain Hawkins
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After six years helping shape Blackpool’s tourism future, the boss of Merlin’s attractions in the town is swapping the Tower for turrets and heading for new horizons.

Iain Hawkins has been in charge of the company’s cluster of businesses in Blackpool - which also include Madame Tussauds, the Sea Life Centre and the Blackpool Dungeon - since the operator became a major player in the resort in 2010.

Coun Graham Cain and Iain Hawkins from Merlin celebrate an extra week of Blackpool Illuminations.

Coun Graham Cain and Iain Hawkins from Merlin celebrate an extra week of Blackpool Illuminations.

But he is leaving Merlin and Blackpool next month to take up a new role working for the National Trust for Scotland looking after its castles.

Kate Shane, current manager of Blackpool Tower, will take over as general manager for all Merlin’s operations in the resort.

Iain, 43, who is returning with his young family to his native Scotland, first came to Blackpool as a 21-year-old on a work placement with the Sea Life Centre and has now been with Merlin 22 years, working his way up the ladder.

During his tenure he has helped the town press on with schemes including the Resort Pass and the Blackpool’s Back television advertising campaign.

I am leaving a good team in place at Merlin - our team peaks at 500 in the summer, and it is the people who make sure our guests have a great visit

He says he is pleased to be leaving the town in good shape with visitor numbers up and more investment coming in.

Iain said: “I know Blackpool is very important to the whole Merlin make-up and our operations have been at the forefront of a lot of new ideas coming through.

“The one thing I know as I drive up to Scotland is that there is a set of really brilliant attractions of high quality that we set out to create and which we have achieved.”

Iain was appointed head of the Blackpool cluster after Merlin took over the running of the Tower when the council bought it in 2010 as part of a £40m deal which also included the Golden Mile Centre and the Winter Gardens.

Iain pictured at the Dungeons

Iain pictured at the Dungeons

The company already operated the Sea Life Centre but the string of new big name venues was seen as a major milestone in Blackpool’s development.

Iain oversaw investment which has included Madame Tussauds opening on the Prom, the development of the Blackpool Tower Eye observation experience and the arrival of the Blackpool Dungeon.

Free admission to the Tower was also introduced.

The Tower Lounge has closed, to dismay in some quarters, but a new restaurant is set to open there in 2016.

Iain Hawkins at the Tower Ballroom

Iain Hawkins at the Tower Ballroom

Meanwhile the Tower structure has undergone massive investment, with the scaffolding due to be removed from the steelwork early next year and the historic arches uncovered at the Promenade entrance.

Iain added: “Although it is a tough environment and there is still lots of work to be done, Blackpool has turned a corner and we are the leader in giving families value for money and quality.

“The Blackpool’s Back campaign and the Resort Pass have seen different attractions working hand in hand and I think we are the only resort to do that.

“The Blackpool’s Back campaign has seen a new website created, which is a one-stop shop, the heartbeat of everything that happens in Blackpool.

“We are seeing more and more people buying online and that is really helpful because it means people are buying in advance and it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, they are coming anyway.”

Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “On behalf of Blackpool Council I would like to wish Iain all the very best in his new job.

Iain Hawkins at  Madame Tussauds in Blackpool

Iain Hawkins at Madame Tussauds in Blackpool

“During his time in Blackpool he has been a fantastic ambassador for the town with his passion for the Merlin attractions, and the resort as whole, shining through.

“Iain was at the helm for a very important part of Blackpool’s history when the Blackpool Tower was brought back into public ownership for the first time and relaunched with new attractions.

“The joint work on the Resort Pass and the Blackpool’s Back campaign has showed what can be achieved when the public and private sector work together.

“Scotland’s gain is our loss.”

Iain is confident he is leaving the resort in good shape with plenty of positives ahead.

He said: “We have new hotels and restaurants opening, including an announcement soon on the restaurant in the Tower Lounge.

“I am leaving a good team in place at Merlin - our team peaks at 500 in the summer, and it is the people who make sure our guests have a great visit.

“Kate Shane will take over as head of the Blackpool cluster and she is someone who loves Blackpool as much as I do so I am leaving it in good hands.”